Most of the Vikings' predraft coverage to date has focused on the possibility of them drafting a quarterback with the eighth overall selection.
They might have no other choice but to call an audible on that thinking. With five of the top eight teams needing a quarterback and only three quarterbacks largely deemed worthy of selection in the top half of the first round, the Vikings may have to look elsewhere if they want to maximize value.
One of the top alternate options is LB Khalil Mack of Buffalo, a player that NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock likes a lot as a top-five value, at times even saying he should be the first pick in the draft.
"Mike Mayock is the man. He's the man. I want to prove him right," Mack said with a big smile at the NFL Scouting Combine. "I've been working hard this past 5-6 weeks and I'm ready to grind and get out there to work out."
Mack has proved his playmaking ability on the field.
He became a starter in 2010 and left four years later with all kinds of school records at Buffalo – 28½ sacks, 75 tackles for loss and 16 forced fumbles among them.
Last year, he was a second-team All-American and proved he can play with BCS talent. Against Ohio State, he had nine tackles, 2½ sacks, and an interception that he returned for a touchdown.
At the NFL Scouting Combine, he also showed well, becoming one of the top performers among linebackers in the 20-yard shuttle (fifth at 4.18), 40-yard dash (fourth at 4.65), vertical jump (second at 40 inches) and broad jump (second at 10-foot-8).
"I think the important thing is that if you are drafting him as a 4-3 team, you have to make sure that in nickel and sub situations you're freeing him up to go get the quarterback, and in today's NFL, because of the versatility in defenses, I think that's fine," Mayock said.
"… After (Jadeveon) Clowney, I think he's the most gifted edge guy in this class, and I think regardless of your scheme, you need to draft them and play them."
Although Mack played in a 3-4 defense at Buffalo, his athletic ability screams that he could be effective in a number of scenarios and schemes. He is considered capable of replicating his college success in a 3-4 scheme or being a linebacker in a 4-3 scheme, but some analysts see a weakness in his coverage skills, which was a point of concern among Vikings linebackers in recent years.
Still, Mack would seem like a natural fit for the Vikings at No. 8 … if he is still available. Tampa Bay, at No. 7, could also use help in the linebacker corp.
"I put the tape on not really knowing what to expect. I knew he had a lot of positive reviews from around the country," Mayock said. "But the first tape I put in was Ohio State and he blew them up. He made plays all over the field, on the edge, dropping into coverage, explosion, hustle.
"Then I think the next tape I put in was Kent State and he made a one-handed interception. He runs like a safety. He explodes off the edge. From my perspective in today's NFL, guys that have natural edge rush ability are like gold; you've got to get them when they are available."
He may not have regularly faced some of the top teams in the country, but Mack was the MAC Defensive Player of the Year and Jack Lambert Linebacker of the Year.
"I think he's one of the elite edge guys in the draft, but he hustles, he's tough, he can play the run game, and unlike a lot of these guys he can also drop in coverage," Mayock said. "I have yet to find a hole in his game."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
LB Mack sets records, gain big praise
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